NPR

Preventing Police Bias When Handling Dogs That Bite

Drug-sniffing dogs can "cue" off the handlers' belief that there's something to be found; one K9 association is trying to make the drug-sniffing process more scientific.
Officer Darrell Lobe of the Bothell, Wash. police department "proofs" a hidden-drugs test at the start of a K9 certification. The location of drugs in the vehicles was determined by rolling a die to prevent bias. Source: Martin Kaste

Seven years ago, a researcher named Lisa Lit published a study that she now calls "a real career-ender."

On the surface, the study tested the abilities of fourteen certified sniffer dogs to find hidden "targets." In reality, the dogs' human handlers were also under the magnifying glass. They were led to believe there were hidden target scents present, when in fact there were none. Nevertheless, the dogs "alerted" to the scents multiple times — especially in locations where researchers had indicated a scent was likely.

"I think the findings were a little surprising," Lit says. "I don't think the number of incorrect responses

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